Colbert’s been touring the country in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, winning awards in every regional venue from Philadelphia to Sarasota. The Metropolitan Room was packed wall to wall and there was laughter when Colbert’s recognizable voice on the sound system welcomed us to the Metropolitan Room and advised us that no photography or recording was permitted, and demanded that we turn off the "Goddamn" cellphones! Racing barefoot up to the stage in black jeans, black shirt and a tie, he immediately demonstrated his great mime and dance techniques as he rocked the room with a strong medley of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen, a recitation of the poem "Risking Absurdity" by Lawrence Felinghetti, Otis Redding’s "Hard to Handle" and Kool and the Gang’s "Celebration." During this medley, Colbert jumped all over the stage, played with the mandatory stool, riffed with his hot musicians (Charles Lindberg, piano; Justin Hines, percussion, Matthew Scharflass, bass/electric bass/guitar) and mimed swimming on top of the piano. It was a brilliant opening, also enchanced by singers Tanya Holt and Karen Mack. The explosive and flawless show was directed by the award winner comedienne/singer Kristine Zbornik.
Standing on top of the piano in his bare feet, Colbert told us when he was three years old in 1978, he heard his older brothers playing in the yard below. He went out his window moving to the very edge of the roof, and, to attract their attention, began dancing and stripping, first removing his belt, then his shirt, then his pants, and was about to remove his underwear when suddenly his mother appeared and dragged him back into the house. Taking a stance stage center with bowler hat and cane, Colbert sang, unmiked, in old vaudeville style, "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?" (Harburg-Gorney,) marching into the audience, breaking our hearts with lyrics right out of today’s headlines. At this moment Colbert reminded me of the late Danny Meehan (original Broadway cast, Funny Girl) who also was a great mime and whose signature song in his nightclub act was "Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out." Colbert described his loneliness by singing Queen’s "Find Me Somebody to Love." He decided to go on Craig’s List for a date. The Doors’ "People Are Strange" was sung, breaking up each chorus with the recitation of the extremely funny responses to his ad from, among others, a 72-year-old, an underage teenager, and a big lumberjack in Idaho. As Lindberg tinkered with "Eleanor Rigby" during his readings, Colbert kept returning to "People Are Strange" to hilarious effect! But then he changed pace and did a beautiful gentle ballad, bemoaning "the simples things/where have they all gone/why don’t we go" in "Somewhere Only We Know" (Kean.)
Back to his childhood, he told another revealing personal story about a rejection by a girl when he was eight years old, and finding solace playing in the mud with his best friend. Joyously, he sang a song found in a children’s book, "(I Wanna Be Your) Personal Penquin," (Sandra Boynton) recorded by Davy Jones of the Monkees.
Colbert did a survey in Times Square, asking people, "Will you tell me about your faith?" Some responses were moving, some hysterically funny. This led into the deeply exquisite and moving "Prayer" (Carole Bayer Sager & David Foster,) sung with Tanya Holt and Karen Mack, alternating in English and Italian, blending into the women singing "I Say a Little Prayer" (Bacharach-David) and Colbert suddenly using his deep Motown bass baritone voice on a lyric meant to be sung by a woman. The three alternated solos and harmonized in glorious musical collaboration.
Another confession about a high school infatuation led into the humorous "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman, a loud rock song, with the recurrent refrain of "she’s got a fast car" and hard rock repetition of "driving". Colbert then read a verse from Samuel Beckett "Source of Enchantment" and bounced into Rufus Wainwright’s "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk."
Suddenly defiant, Colbert exploded with "I Just Wanna Dance" by Richard Thomas, which has an intro that states "I don’t give a f*** if people think I’m a whore, I just wanna dance." Jumping on the piano again, he undid his belt; and we suddenly saw again the three-year-old exhibitionist, now grown up, happily stripping down to a shining g-string, with not an inch of body fat!. Not since Jack Wrangler’s act at the Grand Finale has there been such a spectacular climax to a cabaret act.
Placing a robe over his buff body, Colbert told us he’d been working with Bobby Peaco on a musical on the life of Julian Eltinge, the female impersonator who was a major vaudeville success, a star in silent movies, and even had a Times Square theater named after him (Now the AMC Empire). In 1940, Eltinge was to open his expensive act in Los Angeles when suddenly the police department decided that no man could appear in female apparel in a show. Eltinge was forced to do his show in a tuxedo singing to mannequins dressed in his elegant gowns. Colbert sang "Once," a dramatic ballad which Eltinge sings to plead his case before a judge:
"Once we sang our songs and told our stories in a bar
It was a stunning finish to a unique and very special act by an artist who everyone interested in the future art of cabaret must see!
David Colbert returns to the Metropolitan Room Sunday, Feb. 8 at 7 pm.
Joe Regan, Jr.